When American Apparel alums Iris Alonzo and Carolina Crespo decided to start their own brand, they knew they wanted to bring interesting people into the design process. But instead of drawing up the usual list of celebrities, models and influencers, they came up with a collaborator list that included all kinds of people — including the 74-year-old stranger playing chess in the park near their office.
Since they launched their brand Everybody in November 2016, the collaborator list has included that chess player (whose name is Prakash Gokalchand), model-of-the-moment Adwoa Aboah, photographer Jean Pigozzi and many more friends and strangers. Each collaboration starts with a simple question: Alonzo and Crespo ask collaborators to describe one item that they're missing in their lives, and then help them make it.
"It's not about who they are in the world of who's who, it's about what they represent in terms of their spirit, really," Alonzo says. "It's their spirit, style and ideas that we think are valuable to the world." In a time obsessed with likes and followers, putting an Instafamous model on the same level as a stranger from a nearby park feels almost revolutionary.
So far, the collaborations have resulted in pieces that are as varied and unexpected as the creators themselves. Pigozzi, for example, designed a "Little Prince"-inspired body pillow shaped like a snake that swallowed a house, while Aboah is working with Everybody to create a versatile tracksuit. Other collaborators have contributed button-up shirts, jumpsuits, postcards and more.
"We really have a focus on something that's either purely functional or purely joyful. But we try to kind of avoid the stuff that's in between," explains Alonzo.
Supplementing these one-off collaborations are Everybody's staple pieces, like the 100 percent recycled cotton Trash Tee. The Trash Tee is a piece that the brand sells both direct to consumer and wholesale to organizations that want to print or customize T-shirts and are looking for an eco-friendly option. The tee was inspired in part by Crespo and Alonzo's combined 26 years at American Apparel, where they became aware of the waste that often goes hand-in-hand with manufacturing clothing.
"We worked in the T-shirt biz for a long time, so we wanted to stick with the ethical manufacturing standpoint. That's kind of a must-do for us," says Alonzo. "But we wanted to take it a step further and really focus on the ecology, as well. We found that there was no 100 percent cotton recycled yarn or fabric on the market. So we got obsessive about it and decided to develop it ourselves."
While the Trash Tee reflects the most obvious usage of eco-friendly materials in Everybody's roster, Alonzo and Crespo have hopes that they'll be able to incorporate the recycled cotton yarn into everything from denim to fleece in the future. And all pieces the brand is developing, whether cotton-based or not, are considered through the lens of environmental impact.
"If all the people [in the design and manufacturing process] are going to go through all this work and effort to put something on the planet, let's make sure we're doing the best job we can possibly do within our means to make sure that it's sustainable, ecologically and ethically speaking," Alonzo says.
Part of what that means for the brand is using natural fabrics and dyes when possible, or relying on recycled materials like polyester made from plastic bottles. The brand also intentionally produces in Los Angeles.
"California has the strictest environmental protection agency standards in every field, but especially in apparel manufacturing," Alonzo says. So it's kind of inherent in every piece we're making that it's just a little bit greener than it would be if you're making something anywhere else," she notes.
That's not the only reason they produce in California, however — the human rights aspect of manufacturing contributes, as well. Crespo grew up around garment factories as her Mexican immigrant father owned one in downtown LA, and both she and Alonzo credit the American Apparel campus as giving them a sense of connectedness to the people actually producing the garments they were designing while working at the brand in its heyday.
"Manufacturing doesn't have to be exploitative," Alonzo notes. "There are people here that are extremely skilled, and they're also wonderful people who have become friends." It's that attitude that makes the duo delighted by California's rising minimum wage, which is set to reach $15 an hour by 2019. "That means you're inherently working with the highest-paid garment workers in the world," says Alonzo. "Which is, to us, fantastic."
Gushing about being legally required to pay their employees more may seem unusual for brand founders, but living a little outside the norm is par for the course in Alonzo and Crespo's world.
"We're not into the lifestyle of going to the coffee shop and getting your $5 coffee and meeting people that are all just like you and then going to yoga and then going to the Whole Foods. It gets boring," says Alonzo. "We're both very curious about people that are different from ourselves."
For shoppers who feel the same way, Everybody's ethically driven process and unique collaborations may be just the breath of fresh air they didn't know they were looking for.